There is little doubt that the majority of outdoorsmen are more concerned with chasing deer and ducks this time of year than they are bass or crappie. I fall squarely into that category. Really, who can blame us?
We only get a few months each year to hunt so we take advantage of them. However, even when winter rolls around and temperatures dip, there are still fish to be caught and an angler willing to braze the cold can put plenty of fish in the boat.
For those of you that havent tried your hand at winter fishing, it really isnt as hard as you might think but Im going to lead this article off with a tip that really isnt related to fishing, because I think you have to take care of this before you can enjoy the fishing trip. Wear plenty of clothes. You have to bundle up because it gets cold on the lake in the winter mainly due to the fact that there is nothing to buffer the wind, so the wind chill is always colder than the air temperature. Whatever amount of clothing you thought was going to be enough, wont be. Double up on clothing, wear gloves, and take hand warmers. Now, onto the fishing.
The first rule of winter fishing is to think deep (Im going to contradict myself in a minute on this but youll have to wait to see why) not just for bass but for all fish in general. Im sure youre asking why and thats an easy one to answer. All fish hang out in a specific location for one of two reasons, food or to make more little fish. In winter, the fish arent thinking about spawning so they follow their stomachs.
In winter, the main food source for predatory fish is shad. Shad are very susceptible to sudden drops in water temperature, so if they stay shallow in the winter and a cold front hits, the shallow water will get really cold really quick and they will not survive. So beginning in late fall they start migrating to deep water and stay there throughout the winter. Bass, crappie, and most other big fish follow them.
To consistently catch these deep water fish, youll need to have some decent electronics, meaning you need a depth finder and the ability to use it. Even though the fish are at the bottom of the lake they are still relating to cover and structure, just like when they are shallow, and since you cannot see either of these youll need to locate them via sonar.
Since all depth finders are different, I wont even try to tell you how to use yours but just assume you know how, so lets discuss what to look for. All the reservoirs you fish in Texas were created by the damming of a river. Before it was dammed, this river cut a channel through the earth that, even though it is now under 30+ feet of water, still exists. Go to the deepest part of the lake (usually by the dam) and use your depth finder to locate this channel (structure) and you will find fish. Now, this channel will not be straight. Think of the way a river bends and curves as it snakes through the terrain and you can get a good idea of how the channel under the lake meanders around. These bends will hold more fish than the straighter sections of the channel. Find a bend with brush (cover) on it and there will be crappie and bass stacked all over it.
For lakes where there is not distinguishable creek channel or cover, you can still find fish in the deeper section of the lake but instead of looking for structure on your depth finder, you need to look for schools of shad. Bass and crappie will be right around these balls of bait, picking off stragglers for an easy meal.
If you happen to fish on lakes that have bridges spanning deeper water them, then your job of finding fish in the winter just got easier. The legs of the bridge allow the fish to move vertically along them all the way from the bottom of the lake to the surface and never leave cover while searching for the optimum water temperature. Also, the sun warms the bridge pilings which in turn slightly warm the water around them and in the dead of winter even a slightly higher water temperature can attract fish.
When fishing deeper water cover or bridge pilings in the winter, you need to think two things, slow and realistic. Fish are cold blooded, meaning they cannot selfregulate their body temperature, so when the water gets cold, they get lethargic. Enticing a reaction bite is next to impossible this time of year. If you want a fish to hit, you have to use a vertical presentation to put a bait in their face and keep it there for a long time so they think its easy prey. Drop a jig down to where you think the fish are holding and leave it there. Dont jerk it up and down in a spastic rhythm, just leave it sitting still. Since the bait will be right in front of the fish for a long time, it will be closely examined so it needs to look realistic.
Its just a personal preference but this time of year I use small baits as well. Many big bass have been caught on small baits while crappie fishing and I think its because a bass metabolism is so slow that it doesnt need huge baitfish to fill it up. Use a small jig and you can catch crappie, bass, even white bass all in the same spot on the same bait.
Remember where I said that I would contradict myself about deep water fishing, well this is it. There are times in the late winter when going shallow can pay off. One of my largest bass was caught in just a few feet of water in January. I was pitching a jig onto rocks near a concrete dam. The sun had warmed the rocks and concrete, which warmed the water, which attracted the fish. So dont overlook areas like this after a few days of moderate temperatures.
When the weather gets cold, you dont have to put the rods up and just dream about fishing. Go with the basics of heading to deep water, fishing slowly, and using realistic baits and youll catch fish while the rest of us are hanging Christmas lights.